If you walked into the science lab of Courtney Elementary School it wouldn’t be unusual hear the faint hiss of a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.
You’ll also find tadpoles, lizards and several children eager to learn about science.
This excitement about science is what led to the partnership between Courtney Elementary and Wake Forest University.
“The reason that I wanted to come out to Yadkin County is because it really is unheard of for science to be valued like this in elementary schools in North Carolina, especially in this Piedmont region right now,” said Dr. Michelle Klosterman, assistant professor of science education at Wake Forest University. “From a scientific researcher and a teacher educator’s point of view it’s very improbable for this to even happen.”
Diana Jones and her staff set the lab into motion when she took her position as principal. Jones decided that she wanted to put more focus on science and work toward raising the science test scores.
Jones said that the school had bits and pieces of lab-related items spread through out the classrooms, but did not have a facility to house them all together and build it into a functioning lab.
After taking inventory of one of school’s two computer labs she realized that many of the computers in one of the labs were essentially dying, and so they set their sites on turning the computer lab into their science lab.
“We had to jump through quite a bit of hoops. We worked with our maintenance department to clear everything out and to get things done and then of course the health inspectors,” Jones said. “When we got fired up as a school and we began putting all of our stuff together then the community got all worked up and donations started coming in. It was awesome that they were so free giving.”
Wake Forest students and volunteers started volunteering last summer setting up outdoor classroom areas, raised flowerbeds and a compost bin area. Then Klosterman decided that she wanted to expand the university’s relationship with Courtney even more.
“They have this science lab and they want to learn how to use it,” Klosterman said. “Some teachers needed some ideas of what to do in science and I thought that’s a great opportunity to have my senior elementary students who I’m running an independent study with to do a service learning project so they’re coming out here and demonstrating science and we’re planning together and they teach it.”
Klosterman has also made it a requirement that her students incorporate elements of the Amazon Rain forest into their lesson plans. The students and Klosterman are partnered with the Amazon Aid Foundation to raise awareness about scientific research and conservation in the Amazon Rain forest.
Michaela Rogers, a senior elementary education student at Wake Forest, taught two fifth grade classes about clouds and cloud forests. Rogers was responsible for teaching three lessons to the two classes and helping them to understand cloud types, how clouds are formed and she included cloud forests to bring in the rain forest element..
“It’s really important that they can reason logically and think critically and communicate their ideas and I think at this point science can really build a lot of skills from them,” Rogers said. “It was cool to be involved in a project that I really think is worthwhile. To me I think science is one of the most important subjects in terms of getting students to think critically. You can integrate literacy and math and the tested skills and still get at the science.”
Fifth grade teacher Karen Joiner has noticed a difference in her students since the lab opened and Wake Forest became involved.
“They’re much more enthusiastic over science which they loved it anyway but last year was unreal,” Joiner said. “Watching how excited they became when they started the lab,” Joiner said. “One thing that Wake Forest has been helping us on is how to incorporate this into how we teach. We’re working on developing ways to use it more. Hopefully it will be used a lot more in the future.”
Joiner said that she thinks the lab is important in how the students learn and making sure that they retain the information.
“Research shows that if you can change a child’s position they learn better and it increases their learning, so just getting out of the normal classroom and just sitting at that one desk hopefully that will even increase their learning and give them an experience they’ll remember,” Joiner said.
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